- Posted March 4, 2014 by
TALKING TO A RISING FILMAKER
Saudade was my first movie production. During my Master in Pharmacology at McGill, I started writing the script and then I directed and produced it in Lebanon. The story revolves around the themes of euthanasia and cancer. It is a love story between Kamal and Hala, a couple living in a peaceful haven until cancer knocks at their door. Hala finds herself trapped in a dilemma, and she eventually undertakes a decision that she is not close of forgetting. The movie was inspired by movies such as Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock), The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky), and Mar Adentro (Alejandro Amenabar) that also tackle similar themes.
2) What led you into making this film?
This movie was made as a tribute to my uncle who passed away from cancer a few years ago. I got inspired by his story and started writing while he was sick and receiving treatment, although the plot is quite different. My emotions were at their paroxysm back then, and it was sort of a catharsis to make this film.
3) Have you always been interested in film?
Yes, since I was a little girl. When I was little I used to pick and choose movies from the vast library that my father built in our living room, and used to watch them with him. These were movies of the criterion collection, and their caliber was definitely not the same as the movies children of my age would watch. They fascinated me, and I would dive deeply into each one, watching the behind the scenes, researching how it was made, reading about its director and the performance of its actors.
4) What's your favorite genre?
My favorite genres are dark comedy and suspense, Alfred Hitchcock style. I have a passion for murder stories with a twist.
There is a distinct difference between suspense and surprise as Hitchcock masterfully depicts it. 'In the first scenario, let us assume that there is a bomb underneath the table, and then all of a sudden there is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene. We have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of a bomb explosion. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the décor. In these conditions the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. In the second case we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed.'
5) In your experience so far, what do you enjoy more? writing? or directing?
I enjoy both of them. I think that scriptwriting is a key component of the process, and quoting Hitchcock: 'To make a great film you need three things - the script, the script and the script.' I have a personal preference for directing. The work with actors is such a unique experience, and requires you to always be creative and find new ways to immerse your actors into the vision you have. In addition, one of my favorite parts in the filmmaking process is the art direction, and I give particular attention to it since it sets the mood and tone of the movie. I have a particular attraction for esthetics and this is why I strive to have my sets beautifully decorated with a lot of taste and charm, with a diverse palette of colors related to the characters' state of mind.
6) On a personal level who are some of your biggest influences?
My biggest influence is definitely my father. He is my role model for his passion, commitment and perseverance to everything he does. He is an example of humbleness and extreme discretion, even after the amazing things he has accomplished in his life. Despite his impressive culture and knowledge, he stays very low-profile and never tries to step on other people's feet. And this is why so many people respect him and love him. He is a life lesson to me, and I look up to him in so many ways. Having seen so much arrogance around me, this has helped me keep my head on my shoulders and use my sense of humor in any situation. He is very passionate about everything he does, and has always strived to empower me as a woman to become independent. He taught me that life is like a big puzzle, composed of a wide variety of interests - if one of them is taken out, your world should not crash since you have a multitude of other pieces or pillars. This has become for me the secret to well-being, since it sharpens my sense of autonomy.
7) Who are some of your biggest influences in the film industry?
In the film industry, my idol is Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense. I have many influences such as Italian film filmmakers (Fellini, Antonioni), and those of the French New Wave (Francois Truffaut , Eric Rohmer). I also love Jean-Luc Godard, who said that ‘Cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.’ I enjoy watching films from American director Orson Welles, pioneer of innovative filmmaking techniques such as deep focus shots and long takes (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil). I have a high esteem for Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire), for introducing the Method acting to cinema as a new form of psychological realism. I also admire the work of Spanish Almodovar (Broken Embraces, Volver) for his theatrical and metaphorical mise-en-scène, and Korean Wong Kar Wai for his visually unique, highly stylized masterpiece In the Mood for Love. And of course, I am very much influenced by the work of our talented local filmmakers: Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where do we go now?) and Ziad Doueiri (West Beirut) for their emotionally resonant work.
8) What does Saudade mean to you as far as your work goes?
It's my first film, and first success story. As much as it is an amateur film, it remains my first baby and I am proud of it despite its flaws. I think it was a nice collaboration of talented young people who were all so passionate about what they did. So I learned so much from each and every member of this beautiful crew. I would like especially to thank Nicolas Cardahi, who was my assistant at that time, as he was very dedicated to this film and believed in it. I learned a lot from his sharp cinematographic technique, vision and wonderful imagination.
9) Where do you see your career in the next five years?
In the next five years, I see myself as having completed a web-series, a few fictional short films and TV commercials. My ultimate dream would be to direct a feature film in the near future. I believe that the fact that I am working on a diversity of projects gives me the tools and experience necessary to be able to write and direct one.
10) Any closing thoughts?
Being a woman filmmaker in the Arab world, I believe that it is important for women to express themselves, as I am sure that they have fascinating stories to tell. Cinema is considered a powerful weapon of expression, and one of the most influential export of ideas, culture and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is usually the perspective of male directors that is almost exclusively heard. If women are not directing films, it means that half of the voices of the population are silenced, and their visions suppressed.
Thank you for this wonderful interview and all the best to you!